Houston City Council needs to say NO now
Houston City Council members should look at the proposed 2016 Uptown TIRZ budget they are voting on Wednesday.
Buried in the paperwork is the cost for right of way acquisition, now at $51 MILLION. That is a 70% INCREASE in the cost for the real estate, and it is likely to go much higher.
“It is time for Uptown to tell the truth about the numbers,” says Jim Scarborough of the Uptown Business and Property Owners Association. “City council members were lied too and need to wake up and stop this nonsense.”
Mayor Parker is asking for council members to approve a budget for Uptown when Uptown refuses to disclose the details of their few completed real estate deals. Uptown won’t even tell the public who has been willing to sell land. Council members don’t know how much per square foot Uptown is even paying, the status of the real estate deals, and how much Uptown Board Members with financial interests on the street will benefit from the deal. If that is transparency, then we are all in trouble.
It is becoming increasingly clear this is a smelly real estate deal, and not really about transit and helping people get to work quicker. In 2013, City Council was promised Uptown would build huge transit centers. The proposed Bellaire Uptown Center will hold at least 700 cars. Now that plan has been scaled back to 100 cars, and Metro says that will cut suburban commuter bus trips to Uptown by half. Really? Get the picture now.
What is most outrageous is that City Council may rubber stamp this insane spending before the Texas Attorney General rules on whether Metro can even be part of this project.
Over the next 48 hours, City Council members should read what they are asked to vote for and ask themselves a question. Is this the best use of taxpayers’ money in a town with so many pressing needs?
If she gets her way, Houston taxpayers will be fleeced, authorizing hundreds of millions of dollars to spend in neighborhoods that simply don’t need the money.
On the list is a proposal to approve the yearly contract with the Uptown TIRZ, including a quarter of a billion dollar improvement plan. That is city hall jargon for giving the green light to spending $200 million on a bus project that is not needed, and will destroy the retail on Post Oak that provides the City a huge tax benefit.
Most of the property owners on Post Oak are opposed. The Mayor doesn’t seem to care.
Businessman making millions on this deal are members of the un-elected board doing the deal.
The Mayor doesn’t seem to care.
The Texas Attorney General is about to rule whether it is even legal for Metro to do a bus project on Uptown because of that little vote we took to approve rail on Uptown.
The Mayor doesn’t seem to care.
“The right thing to do is to delay this vote until after the election, so the future council members and Mayor can make these vital spending decisions,” says Jim Scarborough of the Uptown Business and Property Owners Association.
Maybe it is time to start asking real questions about why all these politicians are in such a rush to help their friends and campaign supporters.
Well the Uptown bureaucrats are doing that and city council isn’t saying a word.
Uptown has started buying right of way land so they can tear up Post Oak, widen the street and then put special bus lanes up and down. Of course, the transparent Uptown folks refuse to tell you who got the deal even though they used your money to do it.
Yet Uptown says they haven’t even yet bought the land for the proposed Bellaire Uptown Transit Center. That is the place where all this sudden invasion of bus happy commuters will come to transfer to Uptown buses.
And there is growing evidence of a bait and switch on this whole deal.
In March of 2015, Uptown president John Breeding told Bellaire lawmakers the $26 million facility would hold 250 parking spaces, not the 700 first thought. Now Metro says they expect only 100 parking spaces and admits there are major issues still being worked out.
That change in parking has caused a major reduction in proposed ridership, even by the wishful thinking folks at Metro. The reason is obvious. Virtually no one will be able to drive to the transit center to take a short bus ride to Uptown. Wasn’t that part of the master plan?
But Houstonians are starting to get it. This isn’t about getting you to work quicker. This is a land deal. That’s why Uptown isn’t investing deeply into the transit center and not worried that no one will be able to park there.
That is why they are buying the right of way first and expanding utilities under Post Oak, using taxpayer money to help make some property owners on the un-elected Uptown Board a big payday.
“This is a giant game being played on Houston taxpayers,” says Jim Scarborough of the Uptown Property Owners group. “Uptown doesn’t need to tear up Post Oak, and they know it.”
METRO has put out new ridership projections for the proposed $200 million bus project. It proved Uptown had grossly exaggerated ridership when they sold the real estate deal to Houston City Council, but the Houston Chronicle headline still read, ‘Why it doesn’t matter.’
The basic gist was that taxpayers should follow the logic once espoused by gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams. Just relax and enjoy it.
Well, here at Dolcefino Consulting we kinda think facts do matter. And our new Chicago style Houston City Hall just hates when someone actually reads the fine print. But we did…
The new METRO numbers analyze ridership today so they can forecast what will happen in 2018.
What should be really alarming is that even METRO now admits 40% fewer suburban commuters will take buses from Park and Ride lots to transit centers near Uptown than was originally claimed. Look at the documents on saveuptown.com. Forty percent. Wasn’t that the whole point of this transit boondoggle?
Commuters would drive to a Park and Ride lot, take a bus to a transit center, then get off that bus and on to a second bus to then go to Uptown, then get off that bus and walk to their office buildings in rain or 100 degree weather. Yes, I know it is not logical, but that’s the plan.
So why does METRO say the ridership projections are only down 15%…not 40%? In that fine print you will see they claim ridership from two neighborhood bus stations virtually doubled in the last two years. Riders getting on the bus at Hollyhurst grew from 800 to 1650. West Alabama from 500 to 900 riders. That’s a transit miracle. Aren’t you surprised there isn’t a METRO News Release touting this sudden huge surge of bus riders in the middle of the city?
The Chronicle has called this project a waste of money before and City Hall didn’t listen. We have invested and think this is a smelly real estate deal disguised as a transit project that we have proven will make some of the folks pushing the deal millions of dollars.
Maybe in Chicago that’s the way it works…but not here.
Taxpayers are smart. It does matter.
The Houston Housing Department gave false information to members of Houston City Council about the use of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) money for affordable housing. An investigation by Dolcefino Consulting has uncovered huge mistakes involving the reporting of the use of millions of tax dollars.
The other big headline. Eleven million dollars dedicated to affordable housing projects over six years with TIRZ money was never spent, and shoddy accounting for the surplus was simply ignored…for years.
Here is the history. Several Tax Increment Investment Zones created by our politicians had to promise to give back a third of their tax windfall to affordable housing. It is called TIRZ Fund 2409.
Since 2009, $70 million has been put into Fund 2409. The biggest contributor to the fund is the Uptown TIRZ. They have contributed $37,703,866. That’s just 30% of their leftover piggy bank. That tells you just how much tax money is now bottled up in Uptown.
Dolcefino Consulting started tracking Fund 2409 when we saw the payments in Uptown financial records while we were investigating that real estate deal disguised as a $200 million transit project. Uptown told us they didn’t have a clue how the money was spent, and we figured for $70 million we should have affordable housing units popping up all over town.
What we have learned is that the City of Houston has a $70 million fund that has NEVER been audited by the City Controller, and the Housing Department didn’t even know for sure what projects they had even spent it on. The original summary provided to the City Council Housing Committee was to be kind…full of huge mistakes on where the money went.
Here’s an example. City Council was told that in 2009 only $54,000 was spent on LARA, another city project that bought mostly empty lots at auction or lots no one else wanted. The 2009 documents claimed $1.2 million of TIRZ funds were spent on a project called Uplift Fourth Ward. After Dolcefino Consulting investigated the files and raised questions, housing realized their numbers weren’t worth the paper they were written on.
The new documents provided to Dolcefino Consulting show in fact $8 million of TIRZ affordable housing money was not spent on new houses, but buying empty lots, in many cases, lots no one else wanted to buy.
And that Fourth Ward project. Uptown now admits it didn’t get $1.2 million, but just $400 dollars. That’s a pretty big difference don’t you think?
“It is stunning that this housing piggy bank has never been broken open and independently looked at,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “This is a city in deep financial trouble, with lots of folks who desperately need affordable housing. We need to know what the heck this money was spent on… to the penny, and what we got out of this deal.”
Assuming the new set of records are actually correct, and who knows, we do know a couple of things.
Remember when the federal government told the City they had problems with the way millions in federal housing fund were spent? The bureaucrats call it “findings.” Taxpayers call it what it really is. Thirteen million of the TIRZ funds were spent subsidizing the projects where the feds cried foul.
Other projects never happened…yet Housing just stopped keeping track of the projects on documents provided to City Council. And the documents raise even more questions.
If this is affordable housing money why do the documents say $592,000 was set aside for paving in Settegast, a Public Works Project. The money wasn’t spent in 2010, and the project disappears from the documents. Is that money part of the surplus Dolcefino Consulting helped uncover, or was it used for paving. No disrespect to the need for paving but that doesn’t get someone a place to live anyway.
You get the point.
Supporting documents below:
The report also provides staggering evidence the project is not what was sold to Houston City Council.
Uptown claimed the buses would run every five minutes. The new Metro report has the buses travelling to stops up to 12 minutes apart. Imagine Uptown workers wearing a suit in 100 degree Houston summer waiting in that heat. All so they could take two buses to a Park and Ride Lot and then get back in rush hour traffic in Katy to go home.
Uptown claimed travel times for this bus adventure that we now know will be 12 minutes longer than they claimed.
Uptown claimed trips from Park and Ride buses that no longer exist. Metro now says there will be 20% fewer buses stopped at the Park and Ride lots for the first trip to the transit centers.
Uptown is now telling Metro they do not have the money to build the parking spaces they originally promised at the proposed Bellaire Uptown Transit Center. The original Uptown plan said 700 parking spaces at just one center, now there are plans for only 100. That will make it virtually impossible for a commuter to drive to a transit center for just one bus ride into Uptown. But of course, that is logical and this is a government project.
Metro still predicts there will be 12,050 boardings by 2018, even without any work to alleviate congestion on the freeways going into Uptown. So let’s accept that magical number for the sake of entertainment. In human speak that means 6,000 people will be taking the bus…ALL DAY LONG.
You want further proof that the Metro ridership model is just WRONG?
Metro’s ridership model forecast is for 14,600 boardings per day by 2018, with the added benefit of that elevated bus flyover over the freeway. Just one problem, Metro knows that flyover won’t exist in 2018.
That tells you all you need to know.
“This just confirms what we have been saying from the start”, says Jim Scarborough of the Post Oak Business and Property Owners. “Even Metro can see there is no longer any need to tear up a beautiful street and destroy the sales tax base of an entire city. This is a real estate deal and it is time for the people who misled City Hall and Uptown property owners to quit. We will not stop until they do.”
Representatives of the Post Oak Property Owners are available for media interviews.
“If I am elected mayor, I will revisit this project and the benefits and the costs before committing a single penny of tax money for such a limited public purpose. Houston has serious financial problems, and it is time to use our money wisely. Our streets are in deplorable conditions, and we need more police and first responders to address crime problems.
I oppose the planned Post Oak Bus Lane Project. My opposition is based on multiple grounds. My principal opposition arises from my conviction that tax dollars are needed for other purposes and the benefits of the bus lane do not justify the expected cost. While there are limitations on how TIRZ dollars are to be used, such limitations should never be allowed to justify imprudent expenditures. While the Galleria area is heavily traveled, the proposed bus lane does not meaningfully address this problem. Finally, the process by which the project has been developed– without full input from all stakeholders and nagging suggestions of hidden appraisals and friendship deals– does not serve the public trust. It simply does not pass the public scrutiny test!
It is time for the city to adopt reasonable guidelines and policies to govern the use of TIRZ dollars. As mayor, I will make implement more controls over the proper use of TIRZ tax dollars and advocate for more responsible use of such funds for the public good.”
The Post Oak Business and Property Owners Coalition wants the immediate resignation of Uptown Executive Director John Breeding, Uptown Chairman Kendall Miller, and Martin Debrovner, the Chairman of the Uptown TIRZ.
“The secrecy, deception and backroom dealing by the power hungry appointed members of the Uptown District, TIRZ, and Uptown Development Authority is deplorable,” says Jim Scarborough of the coalition.
Despite promises of transparency, Uptown refuses to say what property has been bought and for what price, even though nearly 1/3 of the property needed for the bus project has connections to appointed Uptown Board Members.
Documents released by the coalition reveal Uptown is using taxpayer money to lobby for the project, and has kept secret growing costs of the project.
The coalition has long alleged the unneeded bus project is a scheme to help some board members make money and redevelop their own properties. The new documents show Uptown has offered $1.5 million for property owned by a company Uptown Chairman Kendall Miller owns.
Miller and two other Uptown officials disclosed potential conflicts this year, but documents show the Right of Way discussions started nearly three years before. Other Uptown officials have refused to outline their involvement in the real estate deal.
“Houston city council members should demand the full disclosure of who makes money on this deal today,” says Scarborough. “They should also demand the truth about how much this deal will really cost taxpayers, because we know the numbers they were given are just false. Their silence is disappointing.”
For more information contact Wayne Dolcefino at Dolcefino Consulting 713-389-0810.
UPTOWN PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION
In the wake of continued deception by the Uptown Management District and TIRZ, members of the Uptown Property Owners Association will hold a morning news conference to call for key resignations of political appointees, including the Chairman of the Management District.
The Uptown Property Owners Association has been fighting plans for a $200 million plan to tear up and widen Post Oak Blvd for exclusive bus lanes. Uptown refuses to say how much they are paying for the right of way, even though some of the money will financially benefit Uptown board members.
The property owners have obtained documents they will share with the public at the news conference at 11:00am, outside Masraffs Restaurant located at 1753 Post Oak Blvd.
For Information, contact Wayne Dolcefino at Dolcefino Consulting 713-389-0810.
E-mails obtained by Dolcefino Consulting show Uptown is digging up information on a leading critic of that expensive plan to tear up Post Oak for two exclusive bus lanes.
Last month, the Cosmopolitan Condo association filed a civil lawsuit to stop the project, but they didn’t sue Uptown.
Instead, the lawsuit was filed against Metro, claiming their involvement in the Post Oak Bus plan violates the 2003 election mandating rail be built on Post Oak.
Looks like that lawsuit didn’t sit well with some of the self-appointed folks who run Uptown.
E-mails show Uptown Board Member Jonathan Zadock and his lawyer have been digging up records on the Cosmopolitan, including deed records and corporate records on Jim Scarborough and his partners. Scarborough is Vice President of the Uptown Property Owners Association, one of the groups leading the fight against the wasteful project.
“This is another low for Uptown and proof it is time for a serious shakeup,” says Scarborough. “Every business owner in Uptown ought to demand this nonsense stop. Is this what they are doing in their $300,000 a year office on Post Oak, using taxpayer money to plot revenge just because we are trying to stop a giant waste of money?”
Zadok has taken an increasingly active role in selling the bus project in recent weeks.
“E-mails show Mr. Zadok is becoming the chief cheerleader for this bus project. I guess he’s heard from his customers who can’t wait to stand in the summer heat waiting for a bus after an expensive shopping trip,” says Dolcefino Consulting President Wayne Dolcefino.
Zadok and other board members have yet to fully disclose how much money they will make on the Post Oak Bus deal. In 2012 a corporation Zadok manages bought property on Post Oak. Months later he got on the Uptown Board of Directors and then started pushing the bus project. Records obtained by Dolcefino Consulting show part of the Zadok property will have to bought for the widening of the right of way.
“At least three UPTOWN officials have already disclosed they have a conflict of interest on the bus project and it is time for everyone to come clean,” says Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting. “What are they afraid of, sunshine? The Mayor thinks it is just fine for her friends to use taxpayer money to feather their nests. Houston is acting more like Chicago every day.”